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Simpkins v. City of Belleville

May 7, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 16). Plaintiff Debra Simpkins has responded to the motion (Doc. 19). For the following reasons, the Court will deny the motion.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosed materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.

II. Facts

On May 6, 2008, defendants Chris Mattingly and Todd Keilbach, both employees of the Belleville Police Department, were dispatched to an alleged fight in progress which was drawing a crowd. Officer Dana Yoakum also reported to the scene. The gathering was in front of the house of plaintiff Simpkins' sister. When the officers arrived on the scene, the alleged fighters fled, and the officers were able to disperse the remainder of the crowd except for four young people who remained in the road. One of those young people was Simpkins' nephew. Keilbach issued citations to the four young people when they refused to move out of the road so traffic could pass.

While Keilbach was preparing the citations, Simpkins, an officer with the East St. Louis Police Department, arrived in her car. The parties disagreed about the events immediately following her arrival. Mattingly and Keilbach state that Simpkins became loud and belligerent, accused them of harassing the four young people because they were black, and said she would "have their jobs" and that they would regret writing the citations. According to Mattingly and Keilbach, Simpkins refused to step aside so they could finish writing the citations and instead continued to assert her belief that the four young people had a right to congregate where they had been. The officers were able to complete the citations within ten to fifteen minutes of when Simpkins arrived but claim they were delayed by her behavior.

Simpkins tells a different story. She states that when she arrived, she told Yoakum she was also a police officer. After Keilbach finished issuing the citations, Simpkins asked Mattingly whether the citations were issued because the young people were black but insists she was neither loud nor belligerent and did not interfere in any way with the officers' issuing the citations. Simpkins asserts that later Mattingly threatened to arrest her for being part of the crowd he was trying to disperse. All parties agree there was no physical contact between Simpkins and Mattingly or Keilbach.

After the incident, Simpkins accompanied her sister to the Belleville police station so her sister could file a complaint against Mattingly for his treatment of her son, Simpkins' nephew.

The following day, Mattingly and Keilbach issued a citation to Simpkins for obstructing a peace officer by failing to obey an officer's lawful order to disperse and by becoming loud and disruptive to police officers while they were attempting to disperse a crowd that had been involved in a physical fight. They asked Simpson to report to the station for arrest, and she did so voluntarily. At a bench trial on August 30, 2009, the citation was dismissed and a misdemeanor information was filed charging Simpkins with obstructing Mattingly by delaying and hindering him from dispersing a crowd after a fight by approaching law enforcement officers, becoming loud and disruptive and failing to obey an order to disperse. As a result, Simpkins was disciplined by the East St. Louis Police Department by, among other things, being ordered to take substantial leave without pay.

The Honorable Stephen Rice found Simpkins not guilty of the charge. In his written order, Judge Rice found the State of Illinois had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Simpkins had obstructed justice by becoming belligerent in her language or by remaining in place after a police officer ordered her to move. State v. Simpkins, No. 2009-CM-5876, slip op. at 5 (Ill. 20th Cir. Ct. Sept. 22, 2009). Immediately following his conclusion that the State had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, Judge Rice stated, "This determination in no way suggests that Belleville police lacked probable cause in issuing the citation." Id. at 6. His order further indicates he believed the State's evidence that Simpkins had become belligerent:

The Court certainly does not condone the conduct of defendant [Simpkins] in this case. All reasonable people recognize that a law enforcement officer's duties are difficult and dangerous. Police officers are expected to be thick-skinned, to accept a certain amount of "guff" from citizens from time to time in the exercise of their duties. They are often called upon to exercise restraint in the face of belligerent and uncivil behavior. It would be better if it were not so. In this case, the belligerent behavior was committed by a fellow law enforcement officer who should know better. The Chief of Police is right to be offended by the conduct of an officer from a sister department. It was clear from information contained in the record that defendant faced and continues to face the consequences of her actions as an officer of the law in disciplinary proceedings in her own department.

Id. at 7. The order makes no specific findings about the nature of Simpkins' belligerence.

Simpkins filed this lawsuit in October 2009. In the Second Amended Complaint, she alleges a state law cause of action for malicious prosecution against each defendant and a federal cause of action under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against Mattingly and Keilbach for violation of her Fourth Amendment right not to be arrested without probable cause. The defendants ask the Court for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Specifically, they believe Judge Rice's order collaterally estops Simpkins from establishing a violation of her constitutional ...

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